Nine Lines of Argument in Favor of the Regulative Principle of
by Dr. T. David Gordon
A. Argument from the Limits of
Church-Power (Bannerman makes this argument well)
- Brief description of the argument. The Church is an
institution; instituted by the positive command of the risen Christ, and
authorized by Him to require obedience to His commands and participation
in His ordinances. The Church is given no authority to require obedience
to its own commands, and is given no authority to require participation
in ordinances of its own making. The Regulative Principle of
Church-Government lies behind the Regulative Principle of Worship.
- Sample of relevant texts--Mat. 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 1:24; Rom.
B. Argument from Liberty of Conscience
(Ed Clowney makes this case well)
- Brief description of the argument. To induce people to act contrary
to what they believe is right is sinful. Further, God requires us to
worship Him only as He has revealed. Therefore, to require a person, in
corporate worship, to do something that God has not required, forces the
person to sin against his/her conscience, by making them do what they do
not believe God has called them to do.
- Sample of relevant texts--Romans 14; 1 Corinthians
C. Argument from Faith (John Owen
makes this argument compellingly)
- Brief description of the argument. Where God has not revealed
himself, no faithful response is possible, by definition. And, without
faith it is impossible to please God. Therefore, God cannot be pleased
by worship which is unfaithful, that is, worship which is not an
obedient response to his revelation.
- Sample of relevant texts--Rom.14:23; Heb. 11:6, and
D. Argument from the distance between the
Creator and the creature (Calvin and Van Til drive in this direction in
all of their writings; and, interestingly, so does Barth)
- Brief description of the argument. God's ways and thoughts are above
ours as the heavens are above the earth. What makes us think we can
possibly fathom what would please God?
- Sample of relevant texts--Isa. 40:12-14 Deut. 29:29;
Isa. 55:9; Prov.25:2
E. Argument from the character of God as
- Brief description of the argument. God's character as a jealous God
is introduced into texts which prohibit certain things (creating images)
in the worship of God. Thus, the prohibition of creating graven images
or any other likeness of anything in heaven or earth is grounded in
God's character as a jealous God, and thus is not grounded in some
peculiarity of the Sinai covenant.
- Sample of relevant texts--Ex.20:4-5; 34:14
F. Argument from those passages where piety
is described as doing exclusively what God wishes.
G. Argument from the severity of the
temporal punishments inflicted upon those who offer to God worship other
than what He has prescribed.
- Brief description of the argument. In many passages, the wicked are
described not as doing what is contradictory to God's will, but what is
beside His will. Similarly, the pious are described by their trembling
in God's presence, by their doing exclusively what God wishes.
- Sample of relevant texts--Isa.66:1-4; Dt.12:29-32; Lev. 10:1-2; 1
H. Argument from the sinful tendency
towards idolatry (Rom. 1).
- Brief description of the argument. There are places where people
offer worship to God, in an apparently good-faith desire to please Him,
yet they do so in some manner not prescribed by God, and His punishment
of them is severe.
- Sample of relevant texts--Lev. 10:1-2; 1 Sam.13:8-15
Paul's point in Romans 1:19ff is that the human
race, in its revolt against God, has "worshipped and served the creature
rather than the Creator." Further, this is not due to ignorance, but to
moral defilement: "Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God
or give him thanks?" cf. Thomas E. Peck, Miscellanies, vol. I, pp.
96-97: "Man, then, is incompetent to devise modes of worship, because he
knows not what modes are best adapted to express the truth or the
emotions which the truth is suited to
I. Argument from Church History
- Brief description of the argument. Church history amply
demonstrates that fallen creatures, left to their own devices,
inevitably produce worship which is impious. Especially the Reformation,
as an historical movement, bore testimony to the corruption which creeps
slowly into worship when worship is not regulated by the revealed will
This material appears here with Dr. Gordon's